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December 31, 2011

Auburn’s offense explodes in 43-24 Chick-fil-A Bowl win over Virginia

Here’s my game story, or at least how it starts, from Auburn’s win over Virginia in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. There will be more reflection coming on Sunday. Right now, I’m guessing most of you are busy out celebrating New Year’s.

ATLANTA Outgoing offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn had drawn a lot of criticism for Auburn’s struggles this season.

Hired at Arkansas State last month, Malzahn stuck around to call the plays in the Chick-fil-A Bowl for an Auburn offense that did not have its leading rusher and lost its starting quarterback early in the first quarter.

None of those factors made any difference.

Auburn blasted Virginia 43-24 in the Chick-fil-A Bowl behind a Malzahn-directed offense that featured a game plan built to highlight Auburn’s speed.

“He was on the aggressive side,” Auburn head coach Gene Chizik said. “We have a lot of speed, starting with Onterio (McCalebb), and we have some weapons they have to be concerned with.”

Replacing Michael Dyer, the bruising 210-pound star who is suspended for an undisclosed violation of team rules, fell to the speedy McCalebb, a 174-pounder who normally takes Auburn’s carries on the edge. Throughout bowl practices, McCalebb had been asked if he had the body type to be a feature back.

“I’ve been here for three years, and people say that I can’t do this or can’t do that,” McCalebb said. “I just wanted to go out and play my game.”

McCalebb finished with 109 yards rushing on 10 carries, caught two passes for 53 yards, scored two touchdowns and was named offensive MVP.

But the speedy junior wasn’t the only weapon Malzahn used. Freshman running back Tre Mason picked up 64 yards and scored on a 22-yard touchdown run. Emory Blake had six catches for 108 yards. Kiehl Frazier was used as the Tigers’ inside presence and picked up 55 rushing yards and two touchdowns.

The offense took a little time to get in gear.

Both of Auburn’s first two drives ended badly, and starting quarterback Clint Moseley left the game in the first quarter with a leg injury. Moseley was on crutches after the game.

Malzahn replaced Moseley with Barrett Trotter, the junior who opened the season as Auburn’s starter before giving way to Moseley at halftime of the Florida game.

The decision came as a surprise. Most observers thought Auburn would put in Frazier, the highly-touted freshman. Trotter had taken reps as Auburn’s scout team quarterback at times in the week leading up to the game.

“There were times after not playing where you’re thinking, ‘Am I ever going to play again,” Trotter said. “As the backup, it’s kind of the role I’ve been in lately, you have to prepare to come in cold.” …

For the rest, check out the story at www.ledger-enquirer.com. Be back on New Year’s Day with more.

Chat live at halftime of the Chick-fil-A Bowl with Auburn beat writer Joel A. Erickson

Been a while, but the halftime chat is back. Come here at halftime of the Chick-fil-A Bowl to talk all things Auburn from the first half.

Pregame, Chick-fil-A Bowl edition: Auburn vs. Virginia

Bowl week has finally come to a culmination after a week full of bowl practices, bowl contests and press conferences, and I’m in the press box at the Georgia Dome for tonight’s Chick-fil-A Bowl, scheduled to start at 7:30 p.m. ET, but I’m going to bet the clock runs a couple minutes past that before this game actually gets started. From what I’ve seen, there are plenty of fans of both schools walking around Atlanta so far, but you have to get close enough to read the writing on their shirts to figure out who’s who. Not sure every fan coming to the game got the memo that Auburn is supposed to wear navy and Virginia is wearing orange.

The Chick-fil-A Bowl has been announced as a sellout, but whether or not the stadium will be full depends on whether or not both schools sold out their ticket allotments. When a school reaches a bowl, the school then buys tickets from the bowl to sell out of its own site, and reports out of Virginia were saying that the Cavaliers had not been able to sell as many as 4,000 tickets.

For news and notes throughout the game, follow the blog on Twitter, and I’ll be chatting live at halftime here on whatever Auburn’s got cooked up for the first half. Take a look at the links below for all the stories I wrote to preview the game in today’s paper.

Not much more left that hasn’t been covered at some point in the last month, but to recap, Clint Moseley should be the starter, Tre Mason will probably play a big role in Dyer’s absence and Quan Bray may see time at running back. Keep coming back, this blog will be updating until Auburn goes into the locker room before the game.

QUICK SLANTS

  • For those who have a little money to kill, or a bowl pick-em that is still in flux, Auburn is favored by 3.
  • Auburn head coach Gene Chizik is undefeated in eight bowl appearances as a coach. As a graduate assistant, a defensive coordinator and a head coach, Chizik has not been beaten.
  • The series between Auburn and Virginia is tied at one game apiece. The two teams played in 1997 and 1998, splitting both games.
  • Auburn has won four straight bowl games, and a bunch have been close games. The last four, in fact, have been decided by three points and the last three ended on scoring plays as time expired.
  • Virginia has not played an SEC team since facing South Carolina in 2003. Besides the annual rivalry with Clemson, Auburn is 4-2 against ACC teams in bowl games.
  • Auburn is 20-3 when Emory Blake or Philip Lutzenkirchen catches a touchdown pass.
  • The Tigers have won 17 straight games when intercepting a pass and 20-1 in the last 21 games.
  • Auburn’s roster is extremely young. For those looking for the breakdown, Auburn has 24 true freshmen, 11 redshirt freshmen, 16 sophomores, 15 juniors and 13 seniors on scholarship. Seventeen freshmen have played this season, the second-highest figure in the nation behind Texas.
  • Mike London has not been a head coach in a bowl game, although he took Richmond to an FCS national championship in his first year in charge of the program. As an assistant at Virginia, London is 2-2 in bowl games.
  • Virginia is 31-47-6 all-time against current members of the SEC, but the numbers change if you look at the stats another way. The Cavaliers are 7-17 against teams that are active members of the SEC.
  • Virginia is playing in its first bowl game since 2007.
  • The Cavaliers also haven’t had to deal with all the injuries and movement on the offensive line that Auburn has struggled with this season. Auburn has only had one starter, center Reese Dismukes, start every game at the same position, but Virginia’s line hasn’t changed once this season. All five players have been the same for all 12 games.
Update, 5:26 p.m.: Virginia middle linebacker Steve Greer, who led the Cavaliers with 103 tackles, probably will not play in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

Update, 6:43 p.m.: Davis Hooper and Garrett Harper are both warming up with the running backs behind McCalebb and Mason.

Update, 6:48 p.m.: Still have not seen banged-up Virginia corner Chase Minnifield, an All-ACC pick, on the field yet. London said he was a game-time decison.

Update, 6:51 p.m.: Minnifield is on the sideline in sweats. So I’m going to guess he’s not available.

Update, 7:08 p.m.: Both teams have headed to the locker room, the clock reads 27 minutes left until kickoff. Come back here for the live chat at halftime, I’ll be chatting.

 

Matching Up: Chick-fil-A Bowl, Auburn vs. Virginia

Photo by Todd Van Emst

By now, it’s been an awfully long time since Auburn played a football game, but the Tigers are finally getting ready to take the field and get your New Year’s Eve started off early. In that break — which was 35 days, to be exact — an awful lot has happened. Defensive coordinator Ted Roof left to take the same position at Central Florida. Running back Michael Dyer was suspended for an undisclosed violation of team rules. Offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn agreed to become the head coach at Arkansas State, although he’s sticking around to call the plays in the bowl game. Whether or not the change is for better or worse will not be seen for a couple of years, but there is some shifting going on in the Auburn football offices. At the very least, two new coordinators will be working with Gene Chizik in 2012.

But that’s a question to answer for tomorrow. Auburn (7-5) finishes off 2011 tonight against Virginia, a scrappy ACC team that knocked off a few high-profile opponents this season. The Cavaliers (8-4) have not played in a bowl since 2007, and Virginia is trying to get a signature win. Beating an SEC opponent — Virginia has not played an SEC team since taking on South Carolina in 2003 — might be that win, pushing the Cavaliers to a nine-win season. For the Tigers, the game is an opportunity for a young group to build momentum heading into the 2012 season.

A little later than usual, but the look at the matchups is below. For news and updates in 140 characters through tonight’s game, follow the blog on Twitter, and I’ll be live chatting at halftime as always.

Matching Up

  • Where: Georgia Dome.
  • When: 7:30 p.m. ET Saturday.
  • TV: ESPN
  • Records: Auburn 7-5; Virginia 8-4.
  • Series: The series is tied 1-1.

When Auburn runs

Establishing the ground game has been paramount all season long for an Auburn team that finished fourth in the SEC in rushing at 174.8 yards-per-game, but there is a little bit of the unknown in tonight’s incarnation of the Tigers’ rushing offense. With Michael Dyer suspended, Tre Mason and Onterio McCalebb will have to carry the load, along with a possibly brief appearance by Quan Bray. In addition, I have a hunch — and it’s only a hunch — that Kiehl Frazier may see extended action in the running game to help make up for the loss of Dyer. Over on the other sideline, Virginia has built a defense that is strongest between the tackles. The Cavaliers finished fourth in the ACC by only giving up 128.3 yards-per-game, but Virginia also gave up more than 180 rushing yards to North Carolina, Georgia Tech, Florida State and Virginia Tech. Edge: Push.

When Virginia runs

Throw out the Cavaliers’ last two games against Florida State and Virginia Tech, and Virginia’s rushing game was an extremely consistent weapon this year. Running backs Perry Jones and Kevin Parks complement each other well, and Clifton Richardson may also factor into the mix as an option to carry the ball. Virginia did struggle against Florida State and Virginia Tech, but those two teams finished the season ranked No. 6 and No. 12 in the nation in total defense. Over on the other side, Auburn gave up 194.8 yards-per-game, 11th in the SEC, and faces a big, experienced line. Even with Chizik running the defense, the Tigers face a tough test in stopping Virginia’s two-headed running attack. Edge: Virginia.

When Auburn throws

Auburn’s inability to consistently throw the football hampered the Tigers’ offense this season. The Tigers finished 10th in the SEC in pass yardage at 153.4 yards-per-game, a mark that ranked 106th in the country. Inconsistency at receiver beyond Emory Blake, problems at quarterback and an offensive line that gave up 31 sacks all contributed to Auburn’s problems in the passing game.  Virginia was only middle-of-the road against the pass in the ACC, allowing 214.8 yards-per-game, but the Cavaliers also held opponents to a league-low 53.8 percent completion rate. Whether or not All-ACC cornerback Chase Minnifield is healthy, the Tigers have to find a way to open up Virginia’s defense and make some plays down the field in the passing game. Edge: Virginia.

When Virginia throws

Sophomore quarterback Michael Rocco threw for 2,359 yards this season, and backup quarterback David Watford also saw some time in the pocket for Virginia this season. But the passing game has hampered the Cavaliers by producing mistakes. Rocco and Watford combined to throw 15 interceptions this season, lose three fumbles and only tossed 14 touchdown passes. In terms of turnover margin, Virginia was 90th in the country after turning the ball over 26 times this season. Auburn’s pass defense struggled against good quarterbacks this season, but the Tigers have been able to regularly exploit quarterbacks who can be rattled despite their suspect pass defense, which ranked dead-last in the SEC at 211 yards-per-game. South Carolina, Florida and Ole Miss struggled to get something going in the air against the Tigers. Edge: Auburn.

When Auburn fields a kick

Even if the Tigers haven’t garnered the same attention nationally that other teams have, Auburn’s special teams have been solid all season long. In the kick return game, problems against LSU and Georgia were countered by Onterio McCalebb’s 83-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the Iron Bowl, and Tre Mason has also brought a kick back this season. In terms of kickoff coverage, Virginia was fifth in the ACC, and punter Jimmy Howell only averaged 39.4 yards-per-kick. Edge: Auburn.

When Virginia fields a kick

Unless Khalek Shepherd, who averaged 26.2 yards-per-return on 15 kickoff chances this season, has the ball in his hands, Virginia has had problems getting a consistent return together. The Cavaliers only average 5.8 yards on punt returns and 21.7 on kickoff returns. More importantly, Auburn’s kickers may have a field day booming balls inside ideal kicking conditions in the Georgia Dome. Cody Parkey, who blasted 34 touchbacks this season, and Steven Clark, who only gave up 10 punt returns all season, may not give any Cavalier a chance to try to bring one back. Edge: Auburn.

Through the uprights

Being in the Dome eliminates any elemental problems for Auburn’s Cody Parkey and Virginia’s Robert Randolph. Parkey was 11-of-15 with a long of 43 this season, Randolph finished 15-of-22 with a long field goal of 48. Edge: Push.

On the sideline

Ever since Roof left for Central Florida and Chizik took over as defensive coordinator, many Auburn fans have been looking forward to seeing what a Chizik-run defense can do in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, and all indications from the players themselves have been that Chizik has made a positive impact on the defense. Malzahn may be leaving for Arkansas State after this game, but he’s also gotten a reputation for having a one-track mind, and with 35 days to prepare, give or take a few, he will probably have a few wrinkles ready that is not on film yet. In addition, Chizik is undefeated in bowl games as a graduate assistant, defensive coordinator or head coach. On the other sideline, Virginia’s Mike London has drawn rave reviews for his performance in bringing the Cavaliers back to a bowl game, but this is Virginia’s first bowl since 2007. Edge: Auburn.

Prediction

Auburn’s strength of schedule has to factor into any assessment of the Tigers’ season so far. Against top-tier teams, the Tigers struggled mightily, but they also beat South Carolina and handled every weaker foe they played, even if it sometimes wasn’t the prettiest of wins (I’m looking at you, Florida Atlantic and Samford). Virginia’s national rankings may be better, but the Cavaliers’ offense did not play the slew of top-10 defenses Auburn faced — five teams in the top 10 in total defense — and it struggles to take care of the football. In bowl season, as a rule, I tend to put a heavy premium on conference strength, and the SEC schedule Auburn faced dwarfs Virginia’s ACC slate, which didn’t include Clemson, the league champ.

My pick: Auburn 24, Virginia 20.

December 30, 2011

Profiling the Opponent: Perry Jones, RB, Virginia

Virginia has flown under the radar for most SEC fans this season by virtue of being in the ACC. But the Cavaliers seem to be building a little momentum under second-year head coach Mike London, who has assembled a young roster with room to grow going forward that has a knack for winning close games. Wins over Florida State, Miami and Georgia Tech all came by a touchdown or less, and the Cavaliers have a nice combination of balance on offense. The key to that balance may be junior running back Perry Jones, who operates in a time-share with freshman Kevin Parks in the backfield, but Jones carries an awful lot of responsibility in Virginia’s offense.

Because of an altered schedule for bowl week, my normal schedule of blogs has been shaken up, but look for the normal Matching Up post to go up on the website sometime early on Saturday morning along with all the rest of my preview coverage. For more, follow the blog on Twitter, and the halftime chat will be up and running tomorrow.

Perry Jones, RB

  • Height: 5-8.
  • Weight: 185.
  • Class: Junior.
  • Hometown: Chesapeake, Va.
  • Twitter: N/A.

So far this season: Jones earned honorable mention All-ACC honors as Virginia’s multi-purpose threat out of the backfield. Jones, a speedy back who is sometimes used on special teams, racked up a bunch of yardage this season. In the running game, Jones carried 176 times for 883 yards and three touchdowns. He also caught 41 passes for 416 yards and three touchdowns, the second-most catches on the team. In addition, he can step into the return game if needed. Over the course of the season, Jones had 45 yards on six punt returns and 191 yards on 12 kickoff returns.

Scouting report: For Virginia, Jones is something of a Swiss Army knife who can be used almost any way the Cavaliers want to deploy him. Rather than hitting the hole hard, Jones like to pick his way through the line, using good vision to find a hole and hit it. Jones also has very good hands out of the backfield and serves as quarterback Mike Rocco’s security blanket. He may not be a traditional home threat, but Jones is the player Virginia will turn to when the Cavaliers need to move the chains and keep things going.

Gene Chizik says he will serve as defensive coordinator from the sideline

In 13 years as the defensive coordinator, Gene Chizik never coached from the sideline. He has always called the plays from above.

But Chizik confirmed Friday during the Chick-fil-A Bowl coaches press conference that he will be on the sideline to fulfill head coaching duties while serving as Auburn’s defensive coordinator in the bowl game.

“We’ll have to get used to it in the first quarter, and it’ll be a little bit different,” Chizik said. “But we’ll make it work.”

Auburn graduate assistant Dustin Landry, who has been with Chizik the past three years, will be up in the the press box to serve as Chizik’s eyes above the field. Landry and Chizik have been working on the dual role for the past three weeks, Chizik said.

And asked if he feels any added pressure by being the defensive coordinator, Chizik said he’s heavily invested in every game Auburn plays.

“I’m heavily invested in every game,” Chizik said. “It doesn’t matter if I’m going to serve water on the sidelines, or coordinate the defense.”

For more, follow the blog on Twitter.

  • Virginia cornerback Chase Minnifield will be a game-time decision with an undisclosed injury.
  • Asked if there is any danger of overconfidence going into a game against a non-SEC opponent, Chizik said they handle every game the same way. “”Every week, the way we structure everything we do, is almost robotic to a certain degree,” Chizik said.
  • Chizik has been asked over and over again whether or not the coordinator change is going to change the program at all, and he responded the same way he has for weeks.  ”Auburn is Auburn,” Chizik said. “That’s not changing. It could be Joe is the coordinator, Jim is the coordinator, Frank is the coordinator.”
  • Making the decision to be the defensive coordinator for the bowl game was no problem. “I felt like since I did it for 13 years, I was qualified to be the defensive coordinator,” Chizik said.
  • A moment later, Chizik came up with a joke about the same thing. Asked by a Virginia reporter about what it’s like to see a game like Baylor’s 67-56 win over Washington in the Alamo Bowl Thursday night, Chizik said he hadn’t seen it, but any game like that makes any defensive guy cringe. “If that happens to us tomorrow, then I’m probably not qualified to be the defensive coordinator.”
  • Chizik came up with another joke when asked about Virginia’s motion on offense before the snap. A reporter referred it to their shifts, motion and trading, and then added “stuff.” “Their stuff is pretty good stuff, and that stuff wins a lot of games,” Chizik said.
  • The Chick-fil-A Bowl is a sellout for the 15th straight year, Chick-fil-A Bowl spokesman Matt Garvey said Friday.

Chizik: The status of Michael Dyer has not changed

Photo by Robin Trimarchi

Auburn head coach Gene Chizik addressed rumors about Michael Dyer’s status with the team at Friday’s Chick-fil-A Bowl press conference.

“Michael Dyer’s status with Auburn has not changed, and if it does, I will let you know,” Chizik said.

Two Arkansas State players tweeted Thursday that Dyer was transferring to Arkansas State, but the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette refuted that report.

“I’m not aware of any of that,” Chizik said.

Chizik also declined to discuss his conversations with Dyer, who is suspended indefinitely for an undisclosed violation of team rules.

December 29, 2011

Video: Tommy Thigpen, Jeffrey Whitaker talk about defending Virginia in the Chick-fil-A Bowl

Tommy Thigpen talks about his history in Atlanta, Gene Chizik coaching the defense and the problems Virginia presents.

Jeffrey Whitaker says Auburn’s young defensive line is looking to make a statement in the Chick-fil-A Bowl on New Year’s Eve.

CFA Bowl Practice: Gus Malzahn juggling two jobs, Emory Blake feels good and Quan Bray may see snaps at RB

Photo by Todd Van Emst

Gus Malzahn has been trying to handle the duties of more than one man ever since accepting the job as Arkansas State’s head coach last month.

And it has been an awful lot of work, work that continues as Auburn preps for the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Malzahn spends most of the morning and afternoon focused on Auburn and its game plan, and he’s been spending his evenings trying to figure out a coaching staff and start recruiting.

“In the evening, I’ve been thinking about Arkansas State as far as hiring the staff and as far as recruiting,” Malzahn said. “It’s been busy, but it’s a very exciting time for me.”

He’s done it before.

When head coach Gene Chizik hired Malzahn away from Tulsa, the coach did the same thing. He coached Tulsa in the bowl game and worked on building his offensive staff at Auburn at night.

“As a matter of fact, Coach Chizik and I interviewed coaches in the evening,” Malzahn said. “In the afternoons, I actually recruited for Auburn. In the mornings and at practice, I focused on Tulsa.”

And Auburn’s offense will not look exactly like the offense Auburn fans have been watching all season long. Malzahn said Thursday that Auburn could be more aggressive in terms of play-calling, and there may be a few wrinkles in the offense, even at the quarterback position.

Clint Moseley is still the starter, but there are a few things thrown in for good measure.

“Anytime you’ve got a lengthy bit of time to evaluate, get more reps, you’ve got a chance to throw in a couple different wrinkles and all that,” Malzahn said. “It’ll pretty much be starting out status quo, but we will have some different thing we didn’t have during the season.”

  • Malzahn said there may be some things at Auburn’s quarterback spot that no fans have seen yet. “Anytime you’ve got a lengthy bit of time to evaluate, get more reps, you’ve got a chance to throw in a couple different wrinkles and all that,” Malzahn said. “It’ll pretty much be starting out status quo, but we will have some different thing we didn’t have during the season.”
  • Malzahn also said Quan Bray could get some snaps at running back in relief of Tre Mason and Onterio McCalebb.
  • Malzahn’s situation is a little different than a lot of coaches who leave immediately after getting a new job. For example, former defensive coordinator Ted Roof was in Central Florida the day after he got hired. “College football is an interesting profession,” Malzahn said. “I’m a high school football coach, I’ve only been doing this for six years. But that is the thing that is unfortunate about this business is there’s a lot of coaches that move on, and there’s a lot of players that don’t have coaches that were with them throughout the year. So that’s a tough deal.”
  • Safeties coach Tommy Thigpen has a long history with the city of Atlanta, both as a coach and a player. “This is one of my most favorite cities in the world,” Thigpen said. “I’ve been recruiting this city for about 12 years now; I always have Atlanta. I have a great appreciation for the city. As a college player, this is the first bowl I played in. We played in the Peach Bowl in 93.”
  • Emory Blake said the loss of Malzahn is going to hit home at some point. “I’m definitely going to miss Coach Malzahn,” Blake said. “He recruited me. He told me everything that we’d do and we accomplished that. He told me that a lot of people would know who I am and that we’d win the national championship. Everything he promised me, we accomplished.”
  • Like a lot of the coaching staff, Thigpen said Auburn’s young players are starting to make some serious strides. “We started a lot of freshmen. Probably the second-most freshmen in the country this year,” Thigpen said. He’s right. Only Texas has played more. “We’re watching guys like Blackson, Sigler, Erique, a lot of those guys are starting to grow up now.”
  • Head coach Gene Chizik has made an impact on middle linebacker Eltoro Freeman. “Toro’s communicating the best I’ve ever seen,” Thigpen said. “He’s out there making checks and he’s having fun. Chiz is on him.”
  • Virginia’s motion means that Auburn will be pretty simple on defense. “If you’re watching teams that play them, they’re not playing much man coverage versus them, because of the shifts and the motions and the miss-fits. So we’ve got to be pretty vanilla.”
  • Seems like a pattern is developing for Virginia, and it’s that London wants a team that likes to control the line of scrimmage. “They’re very impressive up front,” Malzahn said. “They play a great run defense, especially in between the boxes. They try to keep things in front of them. They try to make you earn it – very few big plays.”
  • Auburn’s young defensive line has a lot of potential, and nose tackle Jeff Whitaker says they are aware of it. “Corey and Nosa Eguae and Kenny Carter and myself, and with the Blacksons and Gabe Wrights, the future’s looking pretty bright,” Whitaker said. “But the deal is we’re trying to showcase our talent on Saturday and let everybody know what the future’s going to look like.”
  • Whitaker also said Carter handled the three games that he backed up Wright with no problems.  ”Kenny handled it well,” Whitaker said. “He handled it like a professional.”
  • Chizik has every player on the defense paying a little closer attention. “It holds guys accountable,” Thigpen said. “When guys make a mistake, you can see them running over to Chiz to make sure he knows that they know that they made the mistake, and they know exactly what they did.”
  • Malzahn said Kiehl Frazier has a bright future. “There’s no doubt,” Malzahn said. “We were able to give him a lot of reps too even before we got here. He’s got a bright future. He’s going to be a great quarterback.”
  • Emory Blake said his ankle isn’t bothering him as much as it once did. “Out here in Atlanta, I haven’t even thought about my ankle all week,” Malzahn said. “That’s actually a first for me since the injury occurred.”

December 28, 2011

Clint Moseley named Auburn’s ‘Good Guy’, Tre Mason says he’s ready again and Emory Blake has been held out at times to stay fresh

Photo by Todd Van Emst

Clint Moseley was named the 2012 recipient of the ‘Good Guy Award’, annually handed out to the Auburn player who best handles his interviews with the media.

Moseley, the sophomore quarterback who took over at halftime of the Florida game and has thrown for 794 yards and five touchdown passes this season, was singled out for his willingness to come to interviews, ability to give honest answers and a solid sense of humor.

For instance, at one point in the season, Moseley’s car broke down, so he walked the rest of the way to the Auburn athletic complex to fulfill his interview obligations for the day.

“It probably has a lot to do with the fact that I was humbled earlier in the year, and I still think it’s kind of cool to go to the interview room,” Moseley said.

Moseley also endured one of Auburn’s most public disappointments this season. After losing the battle for the starting quarterback job in the fall to Barrett Trotter, Moseley came out and handled interviews about the coach’s decision.

Moseley follows Walt McFadden in 2009 and Josh Bynes in 2010 as Good Guy recipients.

“I appreciate it,” Moseley said. “I’m honored to be in their company.”

For more from Chick-fil-A Bowl Week, follow the blog on Twitter.

  • Freshman Tre Mason said he weighs 198 pounds now and wants to get up to 205.
  • Mason likes the Georgia Dome for more than just the fast track. “I’m a Florida boy, so I like the warm weather,” Mason said. “And this is keeping me pretty warm.”
  • Mason also said he never wanted to redshirt this season. He was willing to do whatever it took to get on the field. ““I’m willing to play any position,” Mason said. “If it had to be just special teams, I was willing to do that. I love kick return. I did kick return in high school and also did punt return. I know that I wanted to play this year, and I felt like I could fight for my position.”
  • Asked if playing in the Chick-fil-A Bowl is any harder to get up for, Mason turned the question away. ““We treat every game like a really big game,” Mason said. “Even if it’s a rivalry: We treat every game as if it’s the national championship because we want to play with everything we have.”
  • Running backs coach Curtis Luper said Onterrio McCalebb likes to mix it up in the middle of the field. “McCalebb wants to run between the tackles every chance he can get,” Luper said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we don’t run the ball between the tackles really well.”
  • The run game probably won’t look much different this week, just have a different body back there taking snaps. “It’ll probably look the same,” Luper said. “But Michael was a force. He could carry it 30 times week in and week out. We only need one week here.”
  • Emory Blake has been held out of a few drills this week to keep his injured high ankle sprain from getting any worse before the bowl game begins. “ I’ve held him out of a few drills, and if you know Emory, he hates that, because he thinks people think he’s not working,” wide receivers coach Trooper Taylor said. “But I have to have him fresh.”
  • Taylor believes that Blake is coming back for his senior season at Auburn. “No doubt in my mind,” Taylor said. “He’ll get to make that decision, but for me, he’s family.”
  • Wide receiver DeAngelo Benton has struggled to get off of the sideline in his time at Auburn, but Taylor said that’s partly been a product of the people Benton has played behind. “It’s hard to break out when you’re behind Darvin Adams and you’re behind Emory Blake. But when he’s been called on, he’s made the plays. Against South Carolina, if you don’t make the play that he made, we’re going to be in worlds of trouble. Has he dropped some? Yeah, but that’s going to happen.”
  • Taylor said Gus Malzahn hasn’t changed a bit since getting the head coaching job at Arkansas State. ““If you know Gus he’s going to be competitive regardless,” Taylor said. “The thing about him and what makes him a good person and a good coach is that he doesn’t change.”
  • Cornerbacks coach Phillip Lolley said Chizik took the team back to basics for the Chick-fil-A Bowl. “You can tell that we started from ground level with our teaching methods,” Lolley said. “That’s what we wanted to accomplish going into this bowl game – get the ground work again knowing that we’ve got a lot of young players. We’ve done a lot of teaching, a lot of drills, a lot of fundamentals.”
  • Lolley also said the defensive coordinator version of Chizik is the one he remembers best. “He’s always been the same guy,” Lolley said. “When he was coordinator before, he was always highly motivated and stressed fundamentals. He’s the same Chiz I remember. Being in a head coach was new to me.”
  • Quindarius Carr said he’s been slowly realizing his last game is upon him. “A little bit,” Carr said. “I try not to think about it too much. But it’s a special moment for me, my last game.”
  • Carr is starting to go over all the “lasts” that are happening while he’s preparing for his final game. “Last time I’m going to work out with coach Yox, that hit me,” Carr said. “Last time going full pads in practice. That hit me. A lot of little things have hit me. I’m just kind of sitting back, I guess it will all hit me when the game is over.”